Bingham, Caleb (1757-1817)
Caleb Bingham (1757-1817)
Background . Caleb Bingham was born in 1757 in Salisbury, Connecticut. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1782, delivering the Latin valedictory address to his classmates. Following graduation he took charge of Moor’s Indian Charity School, which prepared Indians to study at Dartmouth. By 1784 he was in Boston, where he opened a private school to teach young women “the useful branches of reading, writing, etc.” Bingham would spend the rest of his life in Boston, teaching school, writing textbooks, and running his own publishing house, becoming one of the most successful and influential textbook writers in American history.
Books . Bingham’s first book, The Young Lady’s Accidence: or A Short and Easy Introduction to the English Grammar (1785), was short, concise, and clear. He followed this volume with The American Preceptor (1794), a collection of speeches, excerpts from plays, and poetry designed for the teaching of both reading and elocution. Specifically designed for American schools, the selections convey a sense of religious piety and patriotic honor which is even more pronounced in Bingham’s most successful text, The Columbian Orator (1797). These books, collections of pieces from varied sources, became the most common readers in American schools. Bingham also wrote an astronomy and geography text, and a reading and spelling book designed for young children. With one of his daughters he published Juvenile Letters; Being a Correspondence Between Children, From Eight to Fifteen Years of Age (1803), which was a series of essays meant to introduce students to the forms of composition. Bingham opened his own bookshop and publishing house in Boston, which became a gathering place for the city’s teachers.
Other Activities . Bingham advocated the changes which came with the Massachusetts school law of 1789, requiring towns to maintain schools. He was appointed master of one of Boston’s new reading schools. In addition to promoting free schools, Bingham pushed for the creation of libraries and other institutions to spread knowledge. His bookshop became a center for the agitation which led Massachusetts, after his death on 6 April 1817, to create free primary schools. Bingham was a staunch Republican and an unsuccessful candidate for political office; Gov. Elbridge Gerry appointed him director of the state prison. Though he never held political office, his Columbian Orator influenced generations of American politicians, introducing them not only to the forms of rhetoric but also to the vibrant ideas of American democracy and republican principles.
Paul Eugen Camp, “Caleb Bingham,” in Dictionary of Literary Biography 42: American Writers for Children Before 1900 (Detroit, Mich.: Bruccoli Clark, 1985).
Caleb Bingham (bĬng´əm), 1757–1817, American textbook writer, b. Salisbury, Conn. He taught until 1796, then became a bookseller and publisher in Boston. He wrote and published some of the earliest grammars, spelling books, and geographies. He was best known for his readers The American Preceptor (1794) and The Columbian Orator (1797), both widely used in New England schools for the next quarter century.